Sashka Avanyan
Originally, the plan was to stay here for 4 months and then go back. It’s my 14th month in Armenia

Sashka Avanyan is one of those people who endlessly inspire and enlighten this world. I have known her for many years now, and she was the repat example I followed myself. After a week of my arrival to Yerevan, we scheduled an interview at a brand-new café at Cascade. 

It’s a sunny June morning when my taxi dropped me off at the bottom of Alexander Tamanyan sculpture, the place where everyone gathers to choose one of the cozy spots for meaningful conversations over coffee. In two minutes I reached the Italianesque Limone and noticed Sashka – she was smiling and shining brightly. We exchanged big hugs as we hadn’t seen each other for a long time.

-Sashka, can you tell us about your background?
-I was born in the United States, grew up in Moscow until the age of 15, then I moved to Canada, where I finished high school and then went to university in Montreal – McGill. After the third year of studies, I came to Armenia through the Birthright Armenia program. Originally, the plan was to stay here for 4 months and then go back. It’s my 14th month in Armenia (smiles). I did Birthright for 10 months and… I decided to repatriate.

Back in Canada, I had no access to Armenian culture before. My father is Armenian, my mother is German American, but my entire life I was mostly exposed only to Russian and American cultures, so coming to Armenia was a brand-new experience, and everything that I’m learning here – the language, the culture, the kind of social norms – it’s all like new information for me. And I couldn’t be happier.

I lived in Yerevan first 3 months, then moved to Vanadzor. Now I live there and for foreseeable future, I will stay in Vanadzor. I work as a manager of a call-center in addition to being a freelance video editor. 

-Sounds amazing! I wonder how you learned about Armenia. Your paternal roots seem to be undiscovered for years. What made you embark on a journey?
-My mother, who is not Armenian, gave me a high school graduation gift - a trip to Armenia for three weeks through a program called ‘’Ari Tun’’. However, the program wasn’t quite suitable for me as it was entirely in Armenian, so I stopped going there. Instead, I stayed in the city for three weeks with the family of friends and had a chance to learn more about Armenia.  I didn’t really feel any connection with my Armenian identity, but it was during that trip that I learned about Birthright Armenia. The idea of being a volunteer at Birthright stuck in my head since then. 

-What do you like in Armenia?
-I love the hospitality here. There are a lot of things that are attractive to me about Armenia in terms of identity.
 
-Currently, you live in Vanadzor, and it’s an unexpected decision for a big city dweller. Why did you leave Yerevan for the little town of Vanadzor?
-This city has such a strong effect on me. Every time I drive into Vanadzor, I have this overwhelming joy in my chest, but it’s strange because the city is pretty dead… There’s nothing there, and it’s a little bit depressing. There’s something very magnetic for me though. Many artists and painters come from Vanadzor since it’s very creative space, and nature is very inspiring. In addition, I’m a mountain person, and mountains are in every direction there. The water is clean, the air is fresh. I barely go to a supermarket, I mostly get everything from a local “shooka”. I feel healthy and balanced there.

-You have lived in America, Russia, and Canada, and you must have noticed differences between Armenians from these countries. What springs up to your mind?
-This is a hard question.  Back in Russia, I didn’t know many Armenians. Actually, your family is probably the only Armenian family I knew. I realized the differences between Western and Eastern Armenians only here, in Armenia. I had no idea the language has that many dialects until I got acquainted with people from all over the world. If somebody speaks Western Armenian for the whole life, it takes them at least a couple of months to adapt. As for me, I have been learning only the Eastern dialect, and I’m not really familiar with the Western one. You know how the ''g'' and the ''k'' switch, and you can tell thanks to these little nuances the part of the world the person comes from. It’s complicated, as my exposure to Armenia has been only in Armenia.

Diana Akopian
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